Sports fans often hear about an athlete who embodies what it means to be a perfect teammate. That player is the one cheering the others on and encouraging teammates. Fans also hear about the most valuable player, the one who carries the team by filling up the scoreboard and being dominant on the playing field. Lastly, they hear about the leader; the one who keeps the team together and pushes everyone to be their best.
But how often does one athlete play all of these roles for a team? That’s what Ciera Min is to Gonzaga women’s golf.
Min is partway through her senior season at GU. Through three tournaments so far, she has finished in the top five every time. She tied for second overall at the Ptarmigan Ram Classic in Fort Collins, Colorado, and was one stroke away from winning the Pat Lesser Harbottle Invitational in Lakewood a few weeks ago. She’s also 3-0 in match play, and has only failed to finish below par in one tournament this year.
“She’s just played great golf. Been locked in the entire season,” head coach Brad Rickel said of his star senior. “But not only has she been great on the golf course, she’s been great in all aspects. Helping the young kids come along and setting an example of how you do things on and off the course.”
Golf was not a predetermined path for Min. Growing up in Hawaii, she tried many sports as a child. Nothing seemed to interest her very much, until one summer when her mother gave her an ultimatum.
“My mom had signed me up for tennis, golf and swimming. She said that at the end I can pick something I really like. But I ended up liking all three of them,” Min said. “My dad had played golf so I wanted to do that to spend more time with him. I think I was 7 years old when I started.”
By the time high school rolled around, Min had become a very polished player. She participated in countless tournaments, including traveling to Scottland for a tournament in 2011. As a senior, she finished second at the state championships in Lahaina, Maui. She caught the eye of Rickel, and the rest is history.
Beyond the big numbers she’s been putting up this year, Min has accepted the leadership role on the squad as well. She is the only upper-classmen on the team. Three freshmen and two sophomores make up the rest of the roster. There’s been some definite growing pains with the young team, but Rickel could not be happier with how Min is leading the bunch.
“She’s a perfect example of how to go about your days and go about your practice,” Rickel said. “And even more importantly, she is more than willing to hold [her teammates] accountable to do what they are supposed to be doing to further our program and themselves.”
The leadership seems to be paying off. Just over a week ago, sophomore Jena Gao knocked in a hole-in-one from 143 yards out. On top of that, freshman Jessica Mangrobang is 3-0 in match play and already has a top-25 finish.
Min said the best part of her own game this year has been her putting. She’s been able to avoid those dreadful bogeys on the green, which was a problem for her last year. This year she’s consistently been converting her birdie putts, and that’s allowed her to stay near the top of leaderboards.
The growth in her game is drastic since her freshman year. As a freshman, Min averaged 74.88 strokes per round. As a senior, she is averaging 71.44. Her season-lowest round her freshman year was a 70, and already this year she has a season-low of 68 through just nine rounds.
“I think the growth as a golfer is very gradual and you might not even know that it’s happening,” Min said. “I look back to four years ago and it’s crazy to see how much of an immense difference there is between freshman Ciera and senior Ciera.”
Min is coming off an incredible end to her junior season. After what she called a “rough junior year,” she was able to cap it off with a first place victory in the WCC Championship tournament.
“We always talked about her goal of winning a college golf tournament,” Rickel said. “To not only win her first tournament, but have it be the one that means the most to all of us, I just really took a lot of pride and happiness in watching her achieve that goal.”
Feeding off this momentum is what has driven Min to all the success so far this year. She said her goal is to win another tournament, and that although her second-place finishes have been nice, she knows she’s capable of taking the crown in these tournaments.
But soon approaching her is the big question: What next? Will she continue her golf career to the next level?
“I’m currently in the process of applying to grad schools,” Min said. “I have considered golf and it’s still in my options if I’m playing really well by the end of this year, but it’s all going to kind of depend on whether or not I get into grad school this time around.”
Next up, Min and her teammates head to the Las Vegas Collegiate Showdown. At this same tournament last year, Min converted a double eagle, so she’s expecting big things this time around. The tournament begins Oct. 23, and will wrap up on the 25th.
Follow the writer on Twitter: @zackoates